Ecology and Socialism (SPGB, 1990)


Une brochure du Parti socialiste de Grande-Bretagne. Rappelons que Socialisme mondial avait publié en français un numéro spécial sur l’écologie en 1987 que nous avions mis en ligne ici.


Why ecology is important

In recent years the environment has become a major political issue. And rightly so, because a serious  environmental crisis really does exist. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat have all been contaminated and polluted to a greater or lesser extent. Ecology – the branch of biology that studies the relationships of living organisms to their environment – is important in this respect, as it can provide an explanation of what exactly has been happening and the extent of the problem.
Ecology teaches that the mineral and chemical constituents of natural matter are continually being used and
transformed by the activities of living organisms; under natural conditions these materials get transformed back into what they originally were, so that the whole process can begin again. This is why ecologists speak of natural cycles and the balance of nature. In doing so they are not expressing a personal preference but are describing laws of nature.
But these laws have been, and are being, ignored. Natural materials are being transformed into substances (including waste) which nature cannot decompose, or such substances are being created at too fast a pace for nature’s decomposing processes to be able to keep up with them. The result is the current environmental crisis – or, more accurately, the ecological crisis, since what is involved is much more than unsightly skylines in cities or ugly factories in rural areas. Substances which are poisonous or cannot be decomposed are being released into nature – for instance lead and the pesticide DDT and also the other heavy metals and a host of chemicals. These substances eventually find their way back to us through the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Ecology is not just about protecting nature – animal rights, saving the whale and other moral issues. It is about human beings too – the way we live and the quality of our life.
Since ecological research has revealed that the present mode of production is damaging to nature – and so to humans as part of nature – it is understandable that those who have an ecological awareness should want to organise to do something about this. Hence the appearance of organisations such as Greenpeace and the Friends of the Earth and, on the political field, parties such as Die Grünen in Germany and the Green Party in Britain.
Ecology has a very definite political message: the urgent need for humans to take action to change the way they relate to the rest of nature. We in the Socialist Party agree that capitalism has devastating consequences for the environment, which will continue to be damaged unless action is taken to protect and repair it. In our view, nature and the environment are being damaged today because productive activity is oriented towards the accumulation of profits rather than towards the direct satisfaction of human needs. Not only does the economic mechanism of the profit system function in this way but it can function in no other way. Profits always take priority both over meeting needs and over protecting the environment.
Where we differ from the various Green parties and movements which share this ecological perspective is over what should be done. In this as in other cases, to find an effective solution, awareness and indignation must be accompanied by an understanding of the cause of the problem. This pamphlet, beginning with an account of the laws of ecology and of the place of humans in nature, argues in more detail the case that the profit system is the prime cause of the present environmental crisis and that a society based on common ownership and democratic control, with production solely for use not sale and profit, alone provides the framework within which humans can meet their material needs in an ecologically acceptable way.

April 1990



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